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France in the South Pacific

France in the South Pacific: Power and Politics

Denise Fisher
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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    France in the South Pacific
    Book Description:

    France is a Pacific power, with three territories, a military presence, and extensive investments. Once seen by many as a colonial interloper in the South Pacific, by the early 2000s, after it ended nuclear testing in French Polynesia and negotiated transitional Accords responding to independence demands in New Caledonia, France seems to have become generally accepted as a regional partner, even if its efforts concentrate on its own territories rather than the independent island states. But France’s future in the region has yet to be secured. By 2014 it is to have handed over a set of agreed autonomies to the New Caledonian government, before an independence referendum process begins. Past experience suggests that a final resolution of the status of New Caledonia will be divisive and could lead once again to violent confrontations. In French Polynesia, calls continue for independence and for treatment under UN decolonisation procedures, which France opposes. Other island leaders are watching, so far putting faith in the Noumea Accord, but wary of the final stages. The issues and possible solutions are more complex than the French Pacific island population of 515,000 would suggest. Combining historical background with political and economic analysis, this comprehensive study offers vital insight into the intricate history – and problematic future – of several of Australia’s key neighbours in the Pacific and to the priorities and options of the European country that still rules them. It is aimed at policy-makers, scholars, journalists, businesspeople, and others who want to familiarise themselves with the issues as France’s role in the region is redefined in the years to come.

    eISBN: 978-1-922144-95-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of maps, figures and tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Glossary and acronyms
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The study and awareness in Australia of France’s presence and influence in the South Pacific have waned since France ended its controversial nuclear testing in French Polynesia in 1996 and seriously addressed Kanak demands for independence in New Caledonia through the Matignon and Noumea accords from 1988 to 1998.

    Few Australians are aware of the fact that France, present in its South Pacific entities New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna,² is one of Australia’s closest neighbours. New Caledonia is only two and a half hours flying time from Brisbane, but its name is less familiar to most Australians...

  8. Part I France in the Pacific to the 1990s

    • 1. The French Pacific presence to World War II
      (pp. 13-46)

      The image of the French in Australia is a complex mix of impressions. Australians see the French as a cultivated people, with a passion for perfection in knowledge and in the day-to-day elements of life whereby clothing becomes haute couture and food haute cuisine, a finely tuned sense of the romantic and the amorous, a healthy not to say excessive suspicion of all things Anglo-Saxon, an uncompromisingly juridical approach to life, an almost manic respect for the ambiguities and inflections of their own language, and a strong sense of religiosity associated with the Catholic church. There is a quixotic element...

    • 2. France manages independence demands and nuclear testing 1945–1990s
      (pp. 47-88)

      The immediate postwar period saw growing demands for autonomy in the colonies and initially, signs of responsiveness in France. In the wave of postwar change, as its wartime allies shaped new international structures with the United Nations (UN) at its core, France acknowledged the need for more equality and evolution in the administration of its colonies. De Gaulle resigned in January 1946 because of differences over parliamentary powers in the new constitution, leading to a period of instability in French leadership. Steps to encourage more self-government and even independence for the colonies, particularly the African colonies, were initiated by the...

    • 3. Regional diplomatic offensive 1980s–1990s
      (pp. 89-96)

      While France introduced a suite of policies to improve its image and engagement in the broader region from the mid 1980s, these superficial changes initially met with mixed success. It was only after genuine French attention to independence demands in New Caledonia, and the nuclear testing issue, that regional attitudes began to change.

      After the war, well into the 1970s, French policy was to keep its territories relatively isolated from the region. Chapter 2 described how France resisted efforts to draw new island states into the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and the consequent formation of the South Pacific...

  9. Part II France in the Pacific:: 1990s to present

    • 4. New Caledonia: Implementation of the Noumea Accord and political evolution from 1998
      (pp. 99-178)

      Chapter 2 concluded that the fundamental political pillars, on which the compromise of the Noumea Accord was based, included defining restricted electorates in certain local elections and the final referendum(s) to meet Kanak concerns at the weakening effect on their vote by immigration inflows from elsewhere in France; and the fairer distribution of the benefits accruing from the nickel resource between the Kanak north and islands, and the mainly European south. Developments surrounding these two critical elements unfolded at the same time as the fledgling New Caledonian government began to test its wings, operating as a collegial executive, with resultant...

    • 5. French Polynesia: Autonomy or independence?
      (pp. 179-190)

      With the cessation of nuclear testing in 1996, and the French commitment to the 20-year Noumea Accord process in New Caledonia underpinned by massive investment in developing nickel at a time of rising global, especially Chinese, demand, New Caledonia displaced French Polynesia as France’s primary strategic asset in the South Pacific. There was accordingly less attention paid by Paris to responding to demands from French Polynesia, leading to instability and hasty measures to address resultant problems.

      In this period, from the end of the 1990s, as in New Caledonia, French Polynesian politics have also been characterised by the fragmentation of...

    • 6. France’s engagement in the region from the 1990s: France, its collectivities, the European Union and the region
      (pp. 191-236)

      As memories of the aberrations of the 1980s receded, and as France finetuned its approaches in New Caledonia and French Polynesia while mounting its regional diplomatic offensive in the 1990s, it became a more familiar and accepted regional participant into the 2000s, albeit as an outside player. It built its image as a regional partner, particularly as a partner of the major regional power, Australia. While the French State continued to invest heavily both financially and politically in managing aspirations in its Pacific entities for more autonomy, it encouraged greater contact by all three with the region, within limits.


  10. Part III France in the Pacific:: Present and future

    • 7. French motivations in the Pacific
      (pp. 239-270)

      France has sought, quietly, to play a greater role in the region, including through maintaining stability in its collectivities and contributing to selected regional activities. It has increasingly sought to pursue this role in tandem with Australia. For its part, Australia has been a willing partner. Australia could rely on the peaceful administration of the French Pacific entities as it grappled with serious governance shortcomings in the Melanesian arc, from Papua New Guinea and Fiji, to Solomon Islands and even a fragile Vanuatu. French military assets have enabled regional burden-sharing in surveillance and emergency assistance across vast areas of the...

    • 8. France’s future role in the region
      (pp. 271-300)

      France has a long history in the Pacific region (see Chapter 1), and derives strategic benefits from being there. In recent years, France has exercised innovation and flexibility, backed by military force, along with significant economic and political investment in its collectivities and, to a lesser extent, the region, to maintain its presence.

      As explored in Chapter 2, just 20 to 30 years ago, France’s behaviour created serious disruption and instability in the region. Its resistance to Vanuatu’s independence left a legacy of suspicion, resentment and violence, and was an indicator to Pacific neighbours of what might follow should similar...

  11. Appendix 1. Wording of Noumea Accord and 1999 Organic Law on Restricted Electorates
    (pp. 301-306)
  12. Appendix 2. Principal statutory measures and proposals: New Caledonia and French Polynesia
    (pp. 307-310)
  13. References and bibliography
    (pp. 311-342)